In a Vase Monday – Hiding in the Grass


This delightful vase with its stylish array of stems and grasses is fairly typical of the kind of jar of specimens which often lurks on the kitchen windowsill. Do not be deceived by this elegant arrangement by the Head Gardener, there is rather more to this than meets the eye. The arrangement features marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), common reed (Phragmites australis) and with stems of rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium). In more skilled hands there is the potential for a pretty miniature arrangement, however the purpose of this display is not to delight the eye or the senses, but to stimulate the intellect.

grasses  in a vase

The  key to this collection of specimens is not what you can see, but what is hidden – micro fungi. As gardeners you will have noticed all kinds of blotches and bumps on leaves and stems and these are usually caused by fungi. Some of these, particularly the rust, smuts and powdery mildews, can have serious effects on the health of the plant, particularly in agricultural monocultures. However, most wild plants seem to tolerate their microfungal guests.

Biologically micro fungi are fascinating, often with alternating generations for asexual and sexual reproduction which may involve different species of host plants. Some are very host specific, using single species, others will spread their favours within a plant family or beyond. An evolutionary tour de force.

Superficially, when you can see them with the naked eye or under a hand lens, they are unremarkable, but under the microscope they can be stunning, even if you don’t really understand what you are looking at! If you want to have a peep at what grows on marram grass look here.

Normally biological specimens are confined to the study, but somehow these seem to have escaped. The coprophiles are, however, kept in strict quarantine until consigned to the compost heap, but that’s another story.

Cathy, the instigator of In a Vase Monday

meme, is always encouraging me to think “outside the box” as I often struggle to find flowers to plonk in a vase arrange,  I hope you all enjoy the Head Gardener’s contribution,

16 thoughts on “In a Vase Monday – Hiding in the Grass

  1. Certainly a challenge to the untrained eye!

    • Not easy for a trained one either. They are their you just need the patience to look and a microscope.

  2. WELL, my intellect has been duly stimulated but found rather lacking when it came to inspect the conidia and its appendages. Do we need to do some revision before we drop in? Any other topics we need to brush up on? Anyway, regardless of the fascinating underworld of microfungi your little vase in its muted shades still looks very elegant!

    • Definitely one for the nerds. These micro-beasties are so complicated in their anatomy and their lifestyle certainly beats anything “forty shades of what’s it” has to offer (or so I’m led to believe). Himself will be pleased by your appreciation of his arrangement.
      We normally converse in standard English and scientific jargon is banned in front of the uninitiated!

      • And did get the O-level Biology prize way back in 19**…… 😉

        • OK, so I was the bookish, clumsy, shy, nerdy child who was always losing things, whose hair could never been confined in a plait, was rubbish at games, needlework and domestic science…………….

          • Tell you what, let’s just accept each other for what we are… 😉

          • oh alright 🙂

  3. Well that is certainly thinking outside the box when it comes to something different for ‘In a Vase on Monday’. A fascinating botany lesson, thank you.

    • The natural world never fails to surprise, delight and amaze me. There is always something more to discover and learn.
      The vase and the fungi belong to the Head Gardener, I just provide the photos and the words.

  4. There is such beauty in science…thank you for the reminder! We have a tendency to sterilize science and take it out of context. It’s nice to be reminded of where that fungus comes from! Lovely post!

    • Thank you, for me the science and the beauty of the natural world go hand-in-hand. I was at a workshop with some younger biologists last week and my comment about scientists having to be imaginative and creative raised a few eyebrows. As usual pearls of wisdom wasted on the young! 😉

  5. What a great post. Something new learned today indeed, and as always written up with great style. But I’m intrigued as to whether the interest in these micro – organisms is extra curricular, or a carry over from a former working environment?
    I couldn’t agree more with your comments about the natural world, having just returned from an invitation to look at a private feral snowdrop wood. We’ve never seen its like before, and it seemed its’ unique, limiting and perhaps creative feature was the hillside elm regeneration they were growing beneath. But was it the elms, or associated subterranean fungi that’s key??
    I look forward to a future post on the banished coprophiles…
    Best wishes

    • Thanks Julian. I did train as a scientist but since we moved to the islands I’ve developed a much broader range in natural history, but essentially I’m still a theorist and analyst whereas Himself (completely untrained) has become a very proficient mycologist and his microscopy is widely admired. So it is work on coprophiles that will appear soon.
      Your snowdrops are interesting, it could well be the influence of the trees that has changed the habitat, perhaps by altering the amount of shade, providing more shelter or changing the water balance. Interesting to speculate, but whatever the cause it must have been a wonderful sight.

  6. WOL

    I suspect that your little niche in the world, like mine, is one of subtleties, a microcosmic rather than a macrocosmic landscape. Those who don’t stop to take a closer look miss so much.

    • It is relatively recently that I have begun to look at natural world at the micro level. What a revelation, not only is it beautiful but is complex. These are not simple organisms which demonstrate some fascinating solutions to evolutionary conundrums.

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